JASS Blog Archives for October 2013

by JASS on October 16, 2013 on 11:54 am

Written by Misty Lorin

Online activism is popular in the Philippines because the mainstream media, usually owned by corporations, does not provide enough space for the people’s agenda. Through the internet, the people’s discontent and opinions are freely aired especially in social media -- with just a click of their android phones, computers, laptops, tablets and other gadgets. 

A lot of noise has been and will be generated by online activists who have successfully impacted on issues of significance in our country. From corruption issues such as the pork barrel, to calls for relief donations for victims of calamities, and of course the threat of curtailing internet freedom through the Anti-Cybercrime Law. The news, opinions, and calls spread like wildfire on the internet, creating public opinion that cannot be ignored by the government and its institutions.

For Samahan ng Maralitang Kababaihang Nagkakaisa (SAMAKANA or Organization of United Urban Poor Women), we use the internet especially the social media, as a tool for letting other people know about the situation of urban poor women, solicit support for campaigns and events, build support groups and networks, and express our positions on different issues, especially those affecting women.

It is not applicable, however, in organizing urban poor women. Majority of Filipinos do not have access to the internet and most poor women do not have access to computers, and even if they do, most of them do not know how to use and maximize it.

There are about 27 million internet users in the Philippines that account for about 30% of the population and 22 million are Facebook users. The sheer number alone is enough reason for activists to maximize the internet. The message that we put across will be able to reach millions of people if we are able to fully utilize it and can even mobilize people to support our causes.

Moreover, the middle class that can be found on social media are opinion makers. It is therefore important to bring the issues of the masses and of the people into this forum in order to let them see and encourage them to support and take a stand on issues not just of those directly affecting them but also of the issues of landlessness of the peasants as well as the joblessness of workers in the country.

Successful campaigns and calls by online activists such as the recent Million People March against corruption that gathered more than 100,000 people in Luneta Park, Manila on 26 August 2013 show how the internet can be used to mobilize the people against an unjust system. Aside from this, there is also the campaign against the Cybercrime Law that curtails the freedom of expression on the internet. GABRIELA for its part has maximized the internet for its campaigns such as the One Billion Rising Campaign, its Lingap GABRIELA Relief and Rehabilitation Campaign during last year and this year’s flooding, and the Anti-EVAW (Electronic VAW) campaign called “Bury the Past Project” which effectively buried video scandals.

However, online activism has its basic limitations especially in Third World countries. It limits the audience to those who have internet, so those who cannot and do not have access will not be reached. Also, it might be mistaken that we will have this freedom forever especially with governments trying to curtail people’s use of the internet in the guise of protecting us. And while spontaneous mass actions brought about by online calls are indeed a reflection of the people’s outrage, the question of leadership and the continuity of the struggle cannot be ignored.  We only have to look at the Occupy Movement in the US as an example.

Posting statuses on Twitter or Facebook does not equate to change. There is a need for people to gather together and show their outrage. Revolutions do not happen on the internet; revolutions happen on the streets. For movements to truly succeed there is a need to organize and unite on tactics and strategies in winning our causes and battles. And for us to succeed, we would need painstaking organizing, being one with the masses, interacting and integrating and knowing firsthand their issues and concerns and mobilizing them to achieve change. Ultimately, nothing will take the place of face-to-face “traditional” organizing.

About the Author

Misty Lorin is an urban poor community organizer of SAMAKANA (Samahan ng Maralitang Kababaihang Nagkakaisa or Organization of United Urban Poor Women). SAMAKANA is a member organization of GABRIELA – one of the biggest alliances of women’s organizations in the Philippines. On the latest GABRIELA national assembly held last October 2012, Misty was elected as deputy secretary-general for internal affairs.

Misty has been active in JASS since the first movement-building institute (MBI) held in Manila in 2009.

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by Hope Chigudu on October 9, 2013 on 8:18 am

When a woman has been living life like that of ‘[a] rat on a treadmill,’ tired and resigned; in a state of hopelessness, helplessness and despair, on the brink of giving up—it is hard to see a way out. When all her stored-up images and interpretations are based on remembrances and feelings of sadness, self-doubt, distrusts, rejections, abuses and demeaning remarks such as you are HIV positive, you don’t deserve fertiliser coupons, you can’t be allocated land because you are a walking corpse, you have killed many innocent people so you deserve to die, your body is rotten—she experiences contradictions in her body.  It’s easy to live outside one’s body particularly when it has been defined as other, different, lesser and therefore not human.  When she has been labelled and trademarked to the extent that she has embodied what other people say about her, her body is marked with pain.  Every scar that puckers on her skin, every stretch mark and every winkle or scar tells a story of where she has been.

And then JASS comes along. It provides neither ARVs nor food; it has no prison for the abusers and it does not pretend to know everything. JASS creates a domain within which the same woman living with HIV continually deepens her understanding of power, sex and resources.  It shares with this woman some feminist popular education tools that enable her to realize that she has the capacity to participate actively in the same world that humiliates her. She can be visible and can amplify her voice.

With the right tools, especially those that explain how systems of power operate a huge fundamental shift of mind occur. She develops a different sense of what it means to be human. This woman, call her Judy, Tiwonge, Esnat, Gertrude or Chikonde; starts to appreciate that she is a legitimate citizen, that it’s possible for her life to have meaning. She stops embodying the labels and the trademarks imposed by society. She leaves them behind like a pile of citrus peel.

The woman realises that ‘the masters house is huge’ but working with other women, she can shift it slightly or build an alternative one. She also knows her tools and energies are limited and hence her aim is not to ‘boil an ocean’ but rather to identify ‘hot spots’ that make strategic sense while building capabilities to evolve towards a formidable movement. 

As the women get to know each other well, they work as a collective towards changing their world and shaping the future, even if in small ways such as demanding access to seeds. Even if the winds of disempowerment are blowing, they are no longer victims of circumstances. With a very small movement or shift, at just the right time and place (for example going to the Malawi Ministry of Health to demand better antiretroviral therapy), new energy is unleashed.

JASS’ approach to feminist popular education

JASS’ mission in Malawi is to activate the knowledge and skills of Malawian activists and share analytical tools to breakthrough siloes of thinking to build stronger movements, develop strategies that impact our lives from the personal and intimate to the collective and community. Part of this includes creating room for women to dream and envision a better future. JASS works with strategic partner, Malawi Network of Religious Leaders living with HIV/AIDS (MANERELA+) and a range of organisations across Malawi, more and more women are joining the Our Bodies, Our Lives campaign for better ARVs. These are not the usual ‘suspects’, these are women working at community level, they are activists, volunteers and foot soldiers.

JASS’ feminist popular education starts with her story. Deep, personal gripping life stories, stories that take each woman to her cellar where demeaning stories buried in a box are shared. Each woman shines a light into all the corners of her body.  Each story is carved in power dynamics…be it the power a chief wields, power wielded by tradition and religion and hence internalized, power of a security guard at a local clinic who won’t let this woman go in to get her ARVs… power, power, power….

In sharing these stories, her body becomes a vehicle for learning to question the different faces of power that society normally takes for granted. With this understanding, her possibilities are released, blockages are cleared and she is able to break free of limits.  Her inner knowing and personal shifts reverberate in the room and there is new energy. At this moment, women cross a threshold, it happens individually and collectively. They cross many lines, in their words and how they understand the world. They start to get empowered, advancing to another level of critical consciousness, and organizing. They become alive to the world around them.

Working with the Malawi JASS team

It is against this background that I joined the JASS team in Malawi after taking two gap years. The diversity, resilience, innovation, creativity and sheer gumption of a prolific group of women activists singing, dancing, sharing jokes was something to witness. We had our usual evening discussion where women go completely wild, feel free to explore the taboo subjects and those closest to our hearts, bodies and minds—it reminded me that I was home.  Home with the women I have grown to respect, love and admire and with whom I have had a history and a deep and rich connection.

The struggle continues

So the struggle continues. With support from JASS and MANERELA+, women activists are building their movement. The movement is still young, but it has already started planting seeds of empowerment in a disempowering context.

 

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